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Adoption Leave

Last updated: 21 Dec 2021

Adoption leave and Statutory Adoption Pay are available to employees who adopt a child, foster parents who are approved for adoption and parents who have a child through surrogacy. This article covers adoption leave, see our other article for more details on Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP).

Similar to maternity leave, employees who adopt are entitled to 52 weeks of adoption leave, regardless of length of service or the number of hours worked. Adoption leave is divided into 26 weeks Ordinary Adoption leave (OAL) and 26 weeks Additional Adoption Leave (AAL). 

You have the right to return to your job after adoption leave, depending on how much leave you have taken. Your employment contract continues while you are on adoption leave and you can continue to benefit from some of your rights under your contract. 

When a couple adopt, they must decide which one of them will be ‘the adopter’ for adoption leave purposes. The adopter will be entitled to adoption leave and SAP (if eligible), while the partner may be eligible for paternity leave and pay. If the couple wish to share leave more equally, if eligible they can use the shared parental leave scheme.

Who can take adoption leave?

In addition to adoptions through local authorities and other adoption agencies, parents in certain surrogacy cases and foster parents who are participating in a local authority fostering for adoption scheme may qualify for adoption leave.

The following arrangements are covered by the statutory adoption leave and pay:

  • Prospective parents who are “matched for adoption” with a child by a local authority or other adoption agency.
  • Overseas adoptions where a child enters the UK for the purposes of adoption. The rules on adoption leave differ slightly if you’re adopting from abroad.
  • Foster parents who are approved for adoption. The definition includes “fostering for adoption” schemes, which involves the placement of a child with foster parents who are also prospective adopters.
  • Parents of a child born through surrogacy. A couple who apply for a parental order in respect of a child born to a surrogate mother can take adoption leave. At least one of the parental order parents must have supplied the genetic material (sperm or egg) for the child.

There is no right to adoption leave for:

  • Step-parents who adopt their step-children.
  • Parents who have a child with the help of a surrogate but who are not eligible for a parental order (e.g., because neither of them supplied the genetic material for the child).
  • Special guardians or kinship carers (see our article on time off work for grandparents and kinship carers).

Eligibility

To get Statutory Adoption Leave, you must:

  • be an employee
  • give the correct notice
  • give proof of the adoption or surrogacy, if your employer asks you for it

There are additional requirements for Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP). Agency workers may be entitled to SAP, but not adoption leave.

How to give notice

You must tell your employer you want to take adoption leave within seven days of being told that you’ve been matched with a child (or as soon as is reasonably practicable). In a surrogacy arrangement, you must give notice by the end of the 15th week before the child is due.

You need to let your employer know (in writing, if they request it):

  • When you expect the child to be placed with you (or when it is due if you are having a child via surrogacy).
  • When you want your adoption leave to start. This can be either the day the child starts living with you, or any date up to 14 days before you expect them to arrive, and no later than the expected date of placement. In a surrogacy arrangement, leave must start the day the child is born.

In a surrogacy arrangement, you must also give your employer notice of the day on which the child was born, as soon as is reasonably practicable.

It is advisable to give notice of Statutory Adoption Pay at the same time at the same time as notice of adoption leave. See our sample letter of notice for adoption leave and pay to an employer for those who are adopting and matched with a child through the local authority or an adoption agency.

If you want to take less than 52 weeks of adoption leave, you must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice to end your leave early (but it is advisable that you agree with them in advance).

Frequently asked questions

Below are answers to some of the most common questions that we receive on our helpline.

I have a special guardianship order (SGO). Am I eligible for adoption leave?

Unfortunately, no. In order to be eligible for adoption leave, you must be adopting a child in a way recognised by the statute. This includes adoption through a local authority/adoption agency, fostering to adopt, or having a child through surrogacy.

Special guardianship provides a legally secure placement for a child who cannot live with their birth parents, and legally is not adoption. For more information on your right to time off work if you are taking in a child through special guardianship, see our article on time off work for grandparents and kinship carers.

We are adopting from overseas. Can we take adoption leave?

Yes, you can. An overseas adoption means the adoption of a child who enters Great Britain from outside the UK in connection with or for the purposes of adoption. The same rules apply, except that you must give your employer notice of the following:

  • the date on which you received official notification and the date on which the child is expected to enter Great Britain. This must be given within 28 days of the latest of receipt of the official notification.
  • the date on which you want to start your adoption leave. This must be given at least 28 days before that date.
  • the date on which the child entered Great Britain. This must be given no more than 28 days after that date.

If your employer requests it, you must provide a copy of the official notification together with evidence of the date on which the child entered Great Britain.

You can choose to start your adoption leave on the date the child enters Great Britain or on a date no later than 28 days after the child enters Great Britain.

You must also sign form SC6 if you’re adopting from overseas with a partner. This confirms you’re not taking paternity leave or pay.

My partner and I are adopting and want to share equal responsibility for the child. Can we share adoption leave?

You could think about whether one partner (the ‘adopter’) would like to reduce their adoption leave and pay in order to create shared parental leave and pay for the other partner to take. If eligible, you may be able to share the 52 weeks of adoption leave with your partner. 

For more information, see our page on Shared Parental Leave for adoption or surrogacy.

If you would like to extend your time off with your new child, one or both of you may also be eligible for unpaid parental leave.

Can my partner and I take paid time off to attend adoption appointments?

The main adopter (if they are an employee or an agency worker who has completed a 12 week qualifying period) who has been notified that a child will be placed with them can attend up to five adoption appointments on a paid basis. Each appointment is for a maximum of six and a half hours.

For a couple who are adopting, only the ‘adopter’ is entitled to paid time off. If the other partner is also employed, they will be entitled to unpaid time off for two adoption appointments.

What work can I do during adoption leave?

You may work for your employer for up to 10 days without bringing your adoption leave to an end or losing your Statutory Adoption Pay. These days are known as Keeping in Touch days (KIT days) and can only take place by agreement.

You cannot be made to work during adoption leave, nor can you demand to have work during adoption leave. The rules about taking KIT days during adoption leave, and how much you should get paid for them, are the same as the rules for women taking KIT days during maternity leave.

For more information, see our article on working during maternity and family leave.

Do I have a right to return to work after adoption leave?

Your right to return to work after adoption leave is similar to maternity leave. Your terms and conditions of employment continue throughout your adoption leave.

If you take 26 weeks or less of ordinary adoption leave, your employer must allow you to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions as when you left.

If you take more than 26 weeks of adoption leave (any part of your additional adoption leave), your employer must allow you to return to your original job, unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so, in which case they should offer you a suitable alternative.

We recommend that you seek advice if you are not allowed to return to the same job, you are not offered any job or you think the job you have been offered is not suitable.

What happens if an adoption placement ends or the child isn’t placed on the expected date?

If after you have started adoption leave, the placement is not made, the child returns to the adoption agency, or the child dies, your leave will finish eight weeks later after the end of the week in which you were notified (or at the end of the adoption leave period if this is earlier). If you are getting Statutory Adoption Pay, this will also end eight weeks after the disruption (or at the end of the Statutory Adoption Pay period if this is earlier).

You have to give notice to your employer that you are returning to work as soon as the placement is disrupted. If you have not started your adoption leave when you find out that a child is not going to be placed with you or your partner, then you cannot take any leave or pay.


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.